User experience and product innovation

Recently, at the Web 2.0 summit, Palm’s CEO said (as reported in All Things Digital):

Palm created the PDA space with the Pilot and the smartphone space after it with the Treo…So by birthright, Palm should have owned the smartphone market, but it just lost its way.

I’ve been intrigued by this facet of the “smartphone era”: Palm’s, NOKIA’s, Motorola’s whole job—theoretically—was to understand the needs, wants, desires of the mobile phone user. Theoretically they each spent millions of dollars a year in R&D, consumer research, prototyping, product development, etc. Yet Apple smoked them all. Apple focuses on the user experience—from the moment a user decides to enter Apple’s commerce stream, to the moment a user opens a box, to the moment a user first sets up a device to the moment a user interacts that device. With Apple, product = experience and experience = product. It seems a superior user experience—a 365 degree, multi-dimensional experience—is the ultimate killer product/app.

Social Web resources 12-11-2009

Very well drafted and inciteful list of predictions for 2010. The author, Ravit Lichtenberg, delves into what will impact innovation, while opining that mobile become even more central, integrated/social search relevancy will begin to trump search aggregators like Google, and marketers will demand ROI.

Excellent discussion on measurment tactics for Google AdWords campaigns. Discusses basics of setting up a custom report in Google Analytics to tips on interpreting data.

This research paper (pdf link) explores the “viral effect” in Flickr (used as a model of social networks in general) and found that the viral effect generally stays within close proximity of the original uploaders, social links are the dominant method to share and spread a message, and popularity of pictures grows over years. The paper is not a “gentle” read, but worth your time if you want to dig in deep on data analytical methodology.

Viewpoints on the future of free

Free is not the future of business.

Jason Fried, founder of 37 Signals, made this argument earlier this year at the Future of Web Apps conference. And this comment to Fried’s statement  makes a great argument based on simple economics: free is unsustainable from a product development perspective. So how does Red Hat make money by leveraging an open source system like Linux? Here’s a recent article that sheds some light on this, Red Hat is contemplating building a North American channel partner program, and it’s recently inked a deal with Amazon, and here’s an academic paper that points to three dominant ways by which to make money on open source:

  • consulting and support services around the software
  • derivative products built on the community project
  • increased revenue in ancillary layers of the software stack

The article goes on to predict that by 2012 more than half of open source revenue generated will derive from commercial open source.

I’m in agreement with Fried, and align with Robert Scoble,

I love paying for apps. Why? Because when I do that I encourage developers to build more cool apps for me…Anyway, the main point here is that it’s not the app store that’s screwed up: it’s our expectation that developers should work for free.

Scoble’s argument also aligns with Chris Brogan,

Don’t ever feel embarrassed to charge for value. Never apologize that something costs money if you’ve determined the value of it.

Makes sense to me.

Crowdsourcing with Rob Hahn

Crowdsourcing is an important concept in the viability, pertinence, and relevancy of the social web.

A recent crowdsourcing search odyssey of mine (really a two hour drop down the Google search rabbit hole) began with a fairly innocuous @robhahn tweet:

I read recently that a 2-person combat team is four times as effective as a single shooter… anyone have any references to study of this?

This tweet intrigued me, as I thought it likely had something to do with Mr. Hahn’s insurgent marketing in real estate series. @PatrickHealy immediately stepped up to the plate:

@robhahn this should give you what you need: http://bit.ly/15eqQ4

Shortly thereafter I weighed in with this research article. But alas, Mr. Hahn was not satisfied:

@PatrickHealy close… but i’m looking for research showing 2 man team vs. 1 man ops

@ericbryn actually, wanted to see just how much more effective a 2-man fireteam is vs. solo shooter; maybe applies to agents…

Thus, inspired, I began a more substantive series of searches, which yielded these tasty tidbits, but nothing directly on point:

Discussion of information needs assessment and power of teams in edge organizations – Relevant to the insurgency series because the article discusses the shift from top-down command and control decision making to empowering teams and individuals to make relevant decisions based on timely and accurate information. Edge organizations promote a structure comprised of agile distributed networked units, which favors insurgent marketers.

How the information age has affected command decisions in USAF from Desert Storm to 2005 – Relevant to the insurgency series because the author analyzes the USAF shift from centralized to decentralized decision making. Decentralized decision making is key to enabling insurgent marketers to exploit the command and control decision making process that’s sometimes endemic with larger competitors.

Theories about net centric warfare – Relevant to the insurgency series because the article discusses how shared information resources contribute to cohesive mental models of the battlefield that results in increase combat effectiveness. Shared knowledge shared quickly enables insurgent marketers to exploit weaknesses in larger competitors’ information flow.

Discussion of basis for combat operations going to a STRYKER protocol – Relevant to the insurgency series because the report discusses how STRYKER forces are geared to respond anywhere in the world within 96 hours, stressing tactical mobility, lethality, and survivability. Insurgent marketers must strike quickly and with precision to weaken their competitors.

Uses of misinformation in war gaming operations – Relevant to the insurgency series because this article touches on how too much information causes humans to focus on the technical aspects of how the information is delivered rather than the context of the information and how this phenomenon leads to misinformation. An insurgent marketer can exploit this nuance in the sense of releasing highly relevant, highly targeted communications that are in direct contrast to a competitor that focuses on broadcast messaging. Here’s a nice quote from this article:

The gold lies in human thought—assisted by modern communication and computers, not distracted by them.

The reason why I’ve detailed this search odyssey is because I think it’s an interesting exercise in crowdsourcing and thought leadership. Mr. Hahn is a thought-leader in the real estate industry (recently securing a columnist slot within the Inman tribe). But this, in and of itself, is not enough to motivate me to spend a couple of hours helping Mr. Hahn. So what did? Yes my motivation was driven partly out of friendship. But it also has to do with sharing in the learning experience. That is, I enjoy the way he thinks through issues, the cogent arguments he makes for whatever position into which he plows his sword. Part of the way to enrich this experience–a more personal experience with his thought-leadership–is to participate in the germination of an idea. And that, I think, is at the heart of crowdsourcing–the act of helping give birth to a knew idea. The core of crowdsourcing is, essentially, the core of the social web: willingly sharing knowledge, participating in the expansion and distribution of this knowledge, and taking leaps forward together as change agents and innovation artists. Rob, happy reading.

Photo credit: rp72

Consumer centric disruption

Thank you to Nic Brisbourne and his The Equity Kicker blog for (a) highlighting an intriguing video of UK journalists debating the veracity and viability of blogs and (b) pointing out an excellent presentation on the Customer Development Model. Both offer some tasty take-aways.

I find the debate curious. Universal McCann’s 2008 Wave 3 study points out (page 22) that 17.8 million people in the UK have read blogs; this 17.8 million represents 32.1% of the total 16-54 population (in comparison 60.3 million people in the US–33.2% of the total 16-54 population–have read blogs). It seems to me–based on the anecdotal comments of the UK journalists in the video–that UK traditional news media has metaphorically walled itself up and studies blog culture with a telescope, as opposed to latching on to the interesting facets of blogs that attract readers and then combining these facets with traditional journalistic norms and ethos (during the debate some very sound and rational points were made about the role “traditional” journalism has in terms of checks and balances, fact checking, etc). Nevertheless, some very powerful apps and news platforms could result by embracing social web norms. For example, why not take an EveryBlock approach (see Russian Hill) and combine that with traditional beat reporting on the more nuanced and interesting stories cited in the raw data feed. Indeed, one could use EveryBlock data to track patterns which could form the basis for an investigative reporting series.

A visit to slide number 27 of the Customer Development Model presentation offers a succinct and cogent illustration of a consumer-centric product/service development process. The key elements of the slide: Build, Measure, Learn integrated in the overall development life cycle. If I were able to question the UK journalist panel, I’d ask a couple of questions: Do you know of any UK news company to have empaneled a group of consumers that routinely gather their news from blog sites so as to find out why these consumers like these blogs and how they use the blog information in their daily lives? Do you know of any UK news company that has analyzed what apps or smart phone devices their consumers use on a daily basis and how they would like to have news integrated in similar ways on their devices? The answers to these questions begin the consumer-centric design journey.

Finally, this article makes a compelling case as to how certain facets of the Customer Development Model can be a disruptive factor in the real estate industry.

Twitter Please Believe the Hype

Here’s an interview about Twitter with a friend of mine who owns a manufacturing plant in Northwest Chicago. Of course, I was evangelizing the incredible value, benefits, and just awesome coolness of Twitter, but he was a little skeptical…

I think Tom has good advice. It’s easy to get caught up in a Gartner hype cycle, becoming fascinated and enthralled with a technology and thinking it’s value resides simply in its sheer technical coolness. This said, I’m still convinced Twitter is one of the best applications a real estate firm and agent can use to build their personal brand as well as eventually drive transactions. UPDATE: Check out this NYTimes article on the power of Twitter.

In a similar vein I’m having much more meaningful conversations and interactions over Twitter than via telephone and email. I think it’s because Twitter forces you to think crisply and communicate with brevity, mirroring “live” conversations in a way. And in thinking again about ‘ol Notorious’ recent post, it’s this aspect of Twitter–and other social media applications in general–that make it (them) such huge brand-building tools.

Top down branding campaigns are typically forced on consumers like geese trapped in a foie gras factory, delivered in 15 second to 30 second snippets that really don’t change that much. Whereas social media relies on relationships that naturally evolve over time. And it’s this aspect of social media–its repartee–that allows a brand to develop a “personality” that a consumer can choose to befriend. Assuming a consumer remains engaged and interacting with a brand under these circumstances, it stands to reason that consumer affinity and loyalty with/to a brand would be higher than with/though traditional media campaigns.